Monday, March 06, 2017

On the Need to Take People (Including Politicians) Seriously, Not Literally

Facts matter. And I have complained many times (1, 2, 3, 4) about the lack of concern for facts.

But what if they don’t matter? What if the people you love and work with, or the ones you admire (or don’t admire) from a distance, say, politicians, sling inaccuracies around with seeming abandon? For example, inaccuracies from ignorance, faulty and selective memory, sins of omission, exaggeration and serial embellishment, bullshit, or even fabrication?

I’ve sat at many a lunch and dinner, both personal and professional, in which hyperbole was the main course, and in many academic meetings consisting mainly of selective memory and BS.

When this happens, should we stomp our feet and cry boohoo, as the press today is doing in relation to our current president?

The press, including the anchor of a network sympathetic to the current president, continues to rail on and on about the many less than factual statements coming out of the White House.

As if other presidents have not played fast and loose with the facts! Or spent twenty-plus minutes BS’ing an answer to a simple question. Other presidents have been slicker—more polished—than the current one, as a Wall Street Journal column pointed out recently. The problem is that the press takes our current president literally, but not seriously.*

This is a mistake in human relationships—for all of us, not just the press.

As a young man, straight out of undergraduate school, I worked for a service firm in midtown Manhattan. Our task was to process certain jobs and deliver the results to customers. When clients complained about not receiving their jobs, a familiar phrase of the production manager was, “Tell ‘em it’s on the truck,” when it wasn’t. I did not whine to the manager and say, “You’re a bad person.” I did lie a couple of times, but quickly learned not to promise what I could not deliver and developed a number of techniques for keeping my clients happy.

One of those techniques was to translate misstatements of the people I worked with—the production manager was not the only one expert at misrepresenting facts—and consequently to learn how to enjoy their company. They were all respectable people who had their own psychologies. Getting to know them was key to understanding them and thereby to working with them.

Why can’t the press do the same with our current president? And tame their intemperate headlines and articles?

Children who stomp their feet and throw tantrums are insecure because they do not feel loved. The press’s personal identity today is simultaneously being attacked and ignored. They are not feeling the love!

They are not feeling the love because the press, especially those who represent the bi-coastal elites, have set themselves up—on a pedestal—as intellectual guardians of the free society.

As F. A. Hayek wrote in 1949, the press (along with other self-appointed intellectuals) filter and disseminate fundamental ideas to the populace. Their filter requires that the selected ideas “fit into [their] general conceptions, [their] picture of the world which [they regard] as modern or advanced.” The “modern and advanced” ideas today are those of the Marxist Progressive Left. Anything else is assumed to be old-fashioned, backwards, and anathema to their version of a free society.**

The pedestal that the press has been sitting on for the past many years is now crumbling, if not being knocked from under them. This, they cannot tolerate.

Our current president does not give a hoot about the political correctness mantra that the press promotes as gospel. That the press does not, or deliberately chooses not to, acknowledge the ideas on which they base their screeds is enough alone to call them biased.

Telling the press that they are biased and that they sometimes fail in their factual inquiries and publish what appears to be fabricated news is, for them, beyond the pale. For them, this is tantamount to threatening censorship and those who criticize them are assumed to be actual or wannabe dictators.

Tweaking another person’s defense value or defense mechanism, such as telling a compulsive talker “you’re a big mouth,” is insulting and is experienced by the talker as a considerable threat—literally to their pseudo-self-esteem, not actually or seriously to their physical well-being.

Tweaking the press’s pretentious defense value that views themselves as guardians of the free society is what is going on now. Literally, they feel a considerable threat—to their pseudo-self-esteem, not actually or seriously to press freedom.

Add to this that it is difficult to take the press’s whines seriously, because literally what they write (the Marxist Progressivism of the Left) promotes destruction of the free society. They certainly are not promoting the genuine protection of individual rights or anything resembling an authentic (classical) liberalism.

For the press to take our current president and the sense of life of his supporters seriously, they would have to reexamine their own unexamined premises. For as badly mixed as are our current president’s ideas and those of his supporters, and despite what either of them might literally say, their sense of life captures the essence of what once did make America great: namely, being left alone, that is, free, to pursue their own values through hard work and achievement, followed by appropriately earned rewards for the effort.

If the press wants to be taken seriously as defenders of the free society, which means they want to convince the public that they know how to present alternative viewpoints, they should take a serious look at the fundamental ideas on which laissez-faire capitalism is based.

Yes, it would be nice to live in a perfect world in which everyone shoots straight and factually. However, we don’t live in such a world and free will and psychology preclude it from ever happening. Therefore, we must learn to cope with the imperfections that confront us.

Distinguishing the serious from the literal would be a good first step. This means looking for what people are really saying, deep down, and what they really mean.

Focusing only on the literal can create fantasy relationships.


* The expression, referring to our current president, goes back at least to this article in The Atlantic.

** Hayek’s argument is summarized here. I say “Marxist Progressive Left” to distinguish this brand of Leftism from the earlier Bismarckian type of the 1890s to about 1930. See Thomas C. Leonard’s extensively documented book on the early Progressives and my comment on the book.


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